Questions to Ask

If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer or you know someone affected by the disease, then you know how incredibly overwhelming it is to hear the words, “you have ovarian cancer” or “you have an abnormal mass that may be ovarian cancer.” With these words, women are pulled into an unknown landscape of medical terminology and then, with their doctor, must make important decisions that can have a big impact on their health and other aspects of their lives.

Discussing clinical trial options is often the last thing on a woman’s mind.

Clinical trials are not the best option for everyone, but it is important for women with ovarian cancer to know all the choices available to them in deciding on the appropriate care and treatment. Women should feel free to ask their doctor questions — whether they are general questions about their clinical trial options or they are already considering a specific trial and need to understand more. The patient should ask any questions they may have or bring up any issues or concerns at any point.

Tips for Asking Your Doctor Questions

Many patients and organizations, including the National Cancer Institute, suggest the following tips when asking your doctor questions.  These are not just for questions about clinical trials, but can be useful for organizing all kinds of information in discussions with your doctor.

  • Write down the questions you want to ask before the visit.
  • Bring a pad and pen to write down your doctor’s responses or ask a friend to come and take notes for you.
  • Consider bringing a tape recorder even if you also take notes.
  • Do not hesitate to ask your doctor to clarify or simplify the information if it is too technical or you do not understand terms.
  • If new questions come up during the visit, be sure to ask them. Do not worry about asking too many questions.
How to Talk to Your Doctor

For many women, it may be daunting to even determine what options exist. Of course, the first question you ask your doctor about clinical trials should be “Are there clinical trials that might be right for me?”

As you explore your options, more questions will come up. The National Cancer Institute has put together a useful resource to assist you, Participating in a Trial: Questions to Ask Your Doctor.  This resource lists a range of sample questions that many people have related to clinical trials including questions specific to study design and questions associated with insurance costs. It is a good starting point for women who want to put together a list of questions to ask their own doctor.

Questions to Ask Yourself

As you gather all the information from your doctor, it is important to ask yourself some questions and weigh the potential risks and benefits that may come from participating in a trial.

List all the potential risk and benefits you see and your doctor has raised. Think about your own personal issues and concerns, such as your time or any logistics you might have to coordinate (for example, time off from work, transportation), and not just the medical issues related to the trial. This list of pros and cons may help you to create your list. Do the benefits outweigh the risks for you?

Receive, at a minimum, the best known treatment for their cancer
May have access to latest advances
Could be among the first to benefit if the new treatment or intervention works
Help others and improve the future of ovarian cancer care
May receive high quality care, since participants are often more closely monitored than in standard care

“Latest advances” are not always better than, or even as good as, the standard of care
Cannot choose the treatment you receive in randomized trials
Even if a new treatment has benefits, it may not work for every woman
May experience unexpected side effects
Study may require extra appointments or tests

  • Health insurance does not always cover all patient care costs in a study; usually any extra costs are paid by the research program
  • Consider what your thoughts and beliefs are about clinical research. Will participation make you feel better or worse about your disease?
  • For treatment trials, consider whether getting the experimental treatment in addition to standard of care is better than the standard of care alone.
  • How much time are you willing to give to any extra medical visits or coordination associated with the trial?

Taking part in a clinical trial is your choice and you should thoroughly explore any issues or concerns you have before making a decision.

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